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Where there's will, there's a way

Time Distribution :2011-11-10 13:35:14author:admin source:[chinadaily] view count:0 Friend Comments 0 strip

 Where there

Cai Chunying works on a teapot in her studio in Shanghai recently. Shi Jing / China Daily
SHANGHAI - Holding a pot base with her left arm and a bamboo knife in her right, scribbling, shaving and spinning without a second's hesitation, 39-year-old Cai Chunying is as adept at making ceramic teapots as any other craftsman or craftswoman in China.

But what differentiates Cai from her peers and makes her work way more valuable is that she works without her left hand.

Cai used to be a textile worker in Yixing, a small city known as the hometown of ceramic teapots in Jiangsu province. Unfortunately, she lost her left hand while working in a mill at the age of 20. Her heart sank after the accident, because all of a sudden she couldn't work as a normal person. And her husband's separation made her life even more miserable.

"For six months, I did not take a single step out of home and hardly talked to anybody," says Cai.

"Gradually, I started doing some simple household chores. Later, I started a small grocery shop to keep busy and distract myself. Although things were changing bit by bit, I was not as content with life or myself as before," she said.

The gloom in Cai's life started dissipating in 2003 when the Yixing Aide Training School, a provincial vocational and technical training center for physically challenged persons, was set up. With the help of the Yixing local government, the Yixing Disabled Persons' Federation established the school especially to offer production skills and techniques to the physically challenged so that they could lead a meaningful life.

"I was interested in ceramic teapots right from childhood. When I heard Yixing Aide Training School will help physically challenged people, I immediately enrolled in the ceramics class," Cai says.

Xu Huizhong, the principal of Yixing Aide Training School, waxes eloquent on Cai. Xu says: "She is the most hard working student I have seen. Not only did she listen carefully to every word the teacher said, but also she used to stay back for another two to three hours in the classroom to practice all by herself."

"The ceramics class lasted one year. But Cai spent six more months in the class to polish the skills she had already learned," Xu says.

Making ceramic teapots is a delicate and complicated art for even a normal person, for it demands a high level of flexibility of both hands. More than 100 production steps are needed to make just one teapot. Failure in even one of the steps will mean all the previous efforts had been in vain. And since Cai has only one hand, the difficulty for her is way beyond imagination.

"While making a teapot, one needs to hold the teapot base firmly with the left hand and shave it off the potter's wheel with the right hand. The loss of my left hand, which denied me a firm support of the base, used to give me sleepless night," Cai says.

After thousands of failures, Cai started holding the teapot base with her left arm against her chest. Although an arm is not as agile as a hand, Cai finally solved the toughest problem. Her persistence won her the first memorable honor in 2005. At the Third Vocational Skills Competition for Disabled People, organized by the Jiangsu Disabled Persons Federation, Cai spent three hours to make a plum blossom ceramic teapot and won the first prize.

"The success in that competition completely changed my life. I realized that I was totally capable of doing the things that normal people can do," Cai says.

Cai's technique of making ceramic teapots with one hand won great all-round praise at the Shanghai 2010 World Expo. Demonstrating her skills at the Life and Sunshine Pavilion, Cai even won orders from overseas customers, with one offering 6,000 yuan for a single teapot.

With eight years' efforts, Cai has grown from a novice into a national-level craftsman. She has not only overcome the nightmare of losing a hand, but also is leading a more meaningful life than she had imagined. Her two-story studio, worth about 300,000 yuan, is of proof of the dramatic change in her life.

Cai has married again. She met her man during the training program organized by Tsinghua University in Beijing two years ago. And her husband, too, is a great fan of ceramic teapots.

"As a pop song goes, spring will also fall on the wild lilies. I have met mine already. As long as I am willing to try, I will succeed," Cai says with confidence.